One evening last September I was sitting in my consultant's office after a checkup following the fifth surgery on my uterus, when he dropped the bombshell: due to the unlikelihood that my womb would be able to sustain a pregnancy, surrogacy might be a fertility option I would need to consider, if I wanted a child.
It was, strangely, a comical moment. "What?" I remember saying, my cheeks going as white as his collar. "This can't be happening," I protested, giggling. "Things like this happen to Sarah Jessica Parker, not me!" I didn't cry. I went home, chain-smoked a few fags, and went to bed feeling shocked and void of emotion. When I woke up the next day, this alien idea that had been presented to me hovered over me in the abstract ether. Over the following few weeks, as much as it sat on my shoulder pecking at my thoughts, I refused to let it in as something real – as something I would seriously, at some point, have to consider.
Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I hit Google and contacted some surrogacy support agencies. Within a couple of hours any decision-making process on my part had been obliterated. There it was, in black and white: "I am afraid that, as a single person, surrogacy in the UK is not an option for you. This is because a parental order – the legal device by which you would become the legally named parent of a child born through surrogacy – is only open to couples in a long-term stable relationship." From an innocent investigation of an area I knew little about, the shock felt like a punch in the stomach.
This wasn't supposed to be how my life was going to turn out. Since my early twenties I'd had it all mapped out. Throw myself passionately into my career and have as much fun as possible – the things I was good at – and the family stuff could be put off until later. Pah! what's the rush? But a decade later the trouble started: fibroids (non-cancerous tumours in the uterus); a ruptured ovarian cyst; more fibroids (lots more). By January 2008, aged 37, I'd had three surgeries which had left me with some knock-out scars, emotionally and physically. Recovery from an operation to remove multiple fibroids that January was tough. Blood transfusions resulted in severe anaemia, as well as a bout of E. coli, which the hospital kindly packed me off home with. The C-section-style wound opened and took months to heal.
By the summer, just when my life was back on track – great job, smashing bloke – the pain and the haemorrhaging dominated my life to such an unbearable degree that I had no choice but to undergo uterine artery embolisation, a new-ish procedure which cuts off blood supply to the tumours by pumping radiation particles into the uterus. The pain that followed was untouchable, not even by morphine. I was in fake labour for 12 hours, my lowest life-point to date. Within days the bleeding disappeared – as did the boyfriend – and I became depressed.
More than a year later, in September last year, I was back in hospital with what I might call the nuclear fallout. The scar tissue had caused havoc. My fallopian tubes had twisted around the uterus, and one was badly infected and swollen. The organs had started sticking together and there was a mountainous ovarian cyst. This mess left me with permanently blocked tubes, a severely damaged uterus, and one sympathetic consultant trying to give me a glimmer of hope for the future of my fertility: it seemed that surrogacy might well be my only option. But not as the law currently stands, I found.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 underwent a major overhaul in 2008, and single women were given the right to receive IVF treatment with donor sperm. And as of last month unmarried and same-sex couples can apply for a parental order for a child delivered by a surrogate. This order formally transfers parenthood from the surrogate mother. Yet single persons seeking to become parents through surrogacy have been deliberately excluded from this measure.
"We called for an amendment to the HFE Bill, while it was being debated in Parliament in 2008, which would have allowed single people to obtain a parental order," says Louisa Ghevaert, a leading expert in surrogacy and fertility law and a founding partner of the law firm Gamble and Ghevaert. "This is a ticking time bomb. The law is discriminating against single people, and to make matters worse, it is completely inconsistent with other parenting laws. A single person can legally go to an IVF clinic and conceive with donated sperm. Current laws should be updated to allow single people to become parents though surrogacy."
Peter Bowen-Simpkins, medical director of the London Women's Clinic concurs: "I am astounded to learn that single people are barred from applying for a parental order. The reasons for surrogacy are usually congenital malformations, or surgery that has removed the womb or rendered it no longer able to bear a pregnancy. Neither of these reasons is the fault of the woman, and it seems gross discrimination, especially when we are offering single women donor insemination or IVF."
We are living in a society in which the family comes in all colours, shapes and sizes. Gay mums and dads, Brangelina's rainbow family, Madonna's little Africa, and people like Sarah Jessica Parker creating a family with the help of a surrogate. Families are being built in more contemporary ways, and single parents play a growing role in this mix.
"I myself am a single parent following divorce, and there are plenty of us out there doing a great job," continues Ghevaert. "It is unfair for people with health problems, or those on a difficult fertility journey, to then be denied the option of a parental order just because they are single. It makes no sense."
Surrogacy is complex and expensive, and the international laws surrounding it are riddled with contradictions. With the sprawling World Wide Web, couples are leaping unprepared into other territories to bag their surrogate baby, which can lead not only to pressure and the breakup of their own relationships but may also put the well-being of the child in jeopardy.
In 2008, a Japanese couple used a surrogate mother in India. The intense pressure led to the couple divorcing after the baby was conceived, leaving the child abandoned in a hospital in Western Rajasthan. Under Indian law, single men of foreign origin are not able to apply for a parental order.
The SJP story may have sparked public awareness, as the demand for surrogacy is on the rise. But laws need to be in place with equal rights for all people who have a desire to pursue this avenue, and also with protection in place to support the well-being of children born from a surrogacy arrangement.
I'm still unsure what my fertility outcome will be, as I undergo a final round of treatment. But I do know that the surrogacy path is not for me. I may well look into adoption, if and when it feels right. This is a decision not steered by the current law – surrogacy is just not instinctively right for me. But having a choice would've been nice.